Written by Muhammad Ammar Hidayahtulloh (Picture: Jeffrey Beall)


Geographically speaking, ASEAN region is one of the most vulnerable regions to disaster in the world. There are several tectonic plates across ASEAN region that potentially cause the earthquake, volcanic eruption, and tsunami. In addition, ASEAN faces the increasing extreme climate events in frequency and intensity due to climate variation and change. Therefore, nearly all ASEAN Member States (AMS) have experienced natural disaster causing the severe devastation in the recent years, such as Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, Yogyakarta Earthquake in 2006, Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Thailand Floods in 2011, Cyclone Haiyan in 2013, Bagan Earthquake in 2016, and Central Sulawesi Earthquake and Tsunami in last September 2018.

Given that situation, it is sufficient to say that the effective and efficient disaster management is highly needed for ASEAN region. The regional mechanism on disaster management must be managed and accelerated in comprehensive manner. Otherwise, 635.9 million inhabitants living in the region are threatened by the disaster.

ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community: An Overview

The Declaration of ASEAN Concord II or well-known as Bali Concord II was adopted by ten ASEAN Leaders during the 9th ASEAN Summit on 7th October 2003 in Bali Indonesia. It became the legal basis for ASEAN Community comprising three pillars by 2020, namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation. Yet, the strong belief and commitment of ASEAN leaders had brought ASEAN to accelerate the establishment of ASEAN Community on 2015 by adopting the Cebu Declaration in 2007.

The first ASCC Blueprint was introduced in 2009 which stated the prominent goal of the ASCC is to establish a people-centered and socially responsible community. Within the framework of ASCC, ASEAN is characterized to social welfare and protection. In the following, second ASCC Blueprint was introduced in the end of 2015 to realize the ASEAN Vision 2025, continuing the effective implementation of its predecessor in developing and strengthening the socio-cultural cooperation in ASEAN. It includes the commitment of ASEAN to enhance its capacity in realizing a disaster-resilient ASEAN that is able to anticipate, respond, cope, adapt, and build back better, smarter, and faster.

Challenges and Dilemma

            The world’s politics is no longer talking about security in very static manner. The survival of state has been challenged with the shifting of traditional security threat to non-traditional security threat.Non-traditional security issues have become significantly common in almost all parts of society and have gained its concern in global political arena after 9/11 tragedy. It is reaffirmed by Spijkers (2007), he described that the security threat is not always military in nature, but there is other threat which is the forces of nature that threaten the existence of large groups of individuals.

However, human security in ASEAN is still considered as debatable despite its current development of regional mechanism on human rights. A so-called the ASEAN Way, is a fundamental norm of ASEAN and for that reason ASEAN also established. Within the ASEAN Way norm, it constructed the norms of respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, the non-use of force, and a consensus-based decision-making mechanism. The ASEAN Way norm in itself has both conflictual and harmonious characteristics, and is both a challenge and an opportunity for the region.

The case of 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar was evident to explain the ASEAN Way norm as a challenge for the region. The non-interference principle remains a major block for ASEAN in taking further action in the aftermath of that disaster. The junta’s regime in Myanmar rejected the international offers of aid relief due to the state-centric view on security. The fear of external party to gain access to the country perceived as the more serious threat against the state security in compare to the security of thousands of victims who were in dehydration, hunger and dying situation.

ASEAN Regional Mechanism in Enhancing Disaster-Resilient Community

            The case of 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar should have not happened in the very first place. ASEAN has envisioned the people-centered community in the socio-cultural pillar which means, the security of the people of ASEAN should be central in ASEAN’s agenda. Therefore, the ASEAN Way norm should be also well-actualized in addressing the non-traditional security issues, especially disaster events that might be threatening the whole region.

Rum (2016), the AMS’s sovereignty can be upheld without neglecting the security of the people through establishing the regime of regional disaster management as there are norms by which influence state to do so. Through setting up the regime and institutionalizing the disaster management cooperation will also address the other aforementioned challenges. Therefore, it is clear that ASCC is established in the very first place to be a platform of ASEAN in tackling the issue of natural disaster.

The first attempt of ASEAN in enhancing the cooperation in disaster management can be traced back to the 1st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Disaster Management (AMMDM) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 7th December 2004. The ACDM comprising Heads of National Disaster Management Organizations (NDMOs) of AMS was established as the result of the key decisions made out of the meeting. The ACDM was mandated to start the negotiation of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). AADMER which signed on 26th July 2005 and came into force on 24th December 2009, is one of the cornerstones of the ASEAN commitment in building disaster-resilient community.

In supporting the realization of disaster-resilient community, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) was established under the AADMER by adopting the agreement on 17th November 2011. AHA Centre becomes the main actor, together with the AMMDM and ACMD in disaster management cooperation. In this manner, the author signifies the prominent role of AHA Centre to reduce losses to disasters and coordinate ASEAN’s collective response to disasters.

There are two other important legal frameworks adopted by ASEAN in order to strengthen its commitment regarding this matter, namely ASEAN Declaration on Enhancing Cooperation in Disaster Management (2013) and ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN, One Response: ASEAN Responding to Disasters as One in the Region and outside the Region (2016). For further work, AHA Centre formulated the ASEAN Joint Disaster Response Plan (AJDRP) which endorsed at the 29th Meeting of the ACDM held in Manado, Indonesia on 11th October 2016. By the implementation of AJDRP, AHA Centre is able to: (i) increasing the speed of the ASEAN response by supporting AMS in making timely and informed decisions, (ii) expanding the scale of the ASEAN response by strengthening the ASEAN Standby Arrangements, and (iii) enhancing the solidarity of the ASEAN response by strengthening coordination and cooperation among AMS, ASEAN partners, and other related actors.

Case of Earthquake and Tsunami in Central Sulawesi

The ASEAN region, for the umpteenth time hit by a disaster event specifically the M 7.4 earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Indonesia that was occurred on 28th September 2018. AHA Centre operated in Palu for more than a month after the disaster hit Central Sulawesi. Through AHA Centre and the One ASEAN, One Response, ASEAN had contributed the most significant assistance post-disaster by coordinating the responses from other AMS, from the financial assistance into the other form of humanitarian assistance.In ensuring the response of AHA Centre fast and right on the target, it also supported by the ASEAN Secretary-General, Japan through Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), International Humanitarian NGO such as Map Action which based in the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and also the UN Agencies, such as the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Move Forward

Lacking of disaster management cooperation is fatal and potentially endangering the people in the region. Along with the unity of effort and the spirit of ASEAN, ASCC through AHA Centre and other regional mechanism can realize a disaster-resilient community without undermining the AMS’ sovereignty. Today, ASEAN is the global leader in regional disaster management cooperation by being able to anticipate, respond, cope, adapt, and build back better, smarter, and faster with the existing regional mechanisms. Additionally, it becomes a hope of ASEAN that it is able to respond outside the region as one under the framework of One ASEAN, One Response.

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